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Tackling Child Inequality Starts At Home

As a nation that prides itself as a beacon of human rights around the world, there are many challenges we must reconcile.

07/13/2017 12:15 EDT | Updated 07/13/2017 12:15 EDT
Bob Frid

Canada's 150th anniversary is less than two weeks behind us, and there was certainly much to celebrate. But as a nation that prides itself as a beacon of human rights around the world, there are also many challenges it must reconcile.

Celebrating his first Canada Day as prime minister with celebrations on Parliament Hill last year, Justin Trudeau looked to the upcoming milestone with a positive message to Canada and to the world: "We are a country where everyone is equal."

The atmosphere in Ottawa on July 1, 2016, was euphoric, filled with celebrations that highlighted Canada's diversity and equality, while drawing significant attention to the Government's agenda for Canada. However, something vital, albeit not as obvious, was missing from the picture. Though Canada is undeniably diverse, the more pressing question remains, is Canada genuinely equal?

It has been more than 25 years since members of Parliament pledged to fight child poverty in Canada, a bottom-end measure of inequality, with limited progress.

In UNICEF's 2016 "Fairness for Children" report on child inequality, based on an average of four indicators of inequality, Canada ranked 26 among 35 of the world's most affluent countries. A year later we measured the state of our children and youth based on national averages of 21 indicators, and found a similar result: Canada ranked 25 among 41 peer nations. This is not surprising, as UNICEF's emerging research identified a pattern: countries' outcomes for children are influenced by their levels of inequality among children, which is related to their overall income inequality. Countries that produce a fairer distribution of opportunities for children tend to have more children with better health, nutrition, safety from violence and happiness.

As a generous contributor and partner to UNICEF, the largest humanitarian organization for children in the world, Canada is often seen as an example to other nations for its global humanitarian leadership. UNICEF's credo of "No Child Too Far" represents a shared commitment to reaching vulnerable children around the world. But we have gaps to close here at home. It has been more than 25 years since members of Parliament pledged to fight child poverty in Canada, a bottom-end measure of inequality, with limited progress.

In 2014, former leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, Ed Broadbent, who put forward the 1989 parliamentary motion to tackle child poverty, said as a result of continuing inequality, "There's no question we failed... The desire was there for a while. But it didn't persist, and I have my own theory about that and my own theory is that kids don't vote. Adults vote."

It is time to decide if we want to be great, or just good, for Canada's children and youth.

While Canada's economy has more than doubled in size since that motion in 1989, child poverty has persisted and Canada's rankings in overall child and youth well-being have been stuck in the middle among peer countries.

However, with determined, effective and immediate action, we can turn the tide for our nation's children. While we reflect on the great achievements of Canadians and the bounty of our environment, our diverse peoples and our potential for a great future, Canada's 150th is also a time to resolve to tackle nationwide child inequality and take our place among the countries at the top of UNICEF's Indexes. It is time to decide if we want to be great, or just good, for Canada's children and youth.

By Ebrahim Lababidi, UNICEF Canada Intern

UNICEF Canada is taking action to help improve the well-being of children and youth in Canada through its new initiative launching this fall, One Youth. One Youth will elevate the well-being of children and youth to a higher national priority and work to make Canada #1 on the UNICEF Index of Child well-being by 2030. To learn more and sign up for email updates on how you can help to improve the lives of kids in Canada,go here.

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